MAC Cosmetics asked me to write an article for thier magazine about how to be the life and soul of the party, and they liked it so much that they asked me to make it into a little film. And so I did! My friend Ned Stresen-Reuter shot it and I think it is esential viewing for any potential partier.
Ned Stresen-Reuter shot a video for our friend David Raleigh's single I Do!
The video is full of our friends and even our dogs, and we also asked people to use footage of their weddings from Youtube.
We shot over a couple of days in August in NYC and upstate NY, and Ned and I cut it whilst on vacation on the island of Oronsay, Scotland.
My friend Ned Stresen-Reuter and I were approached by Trojan comdoms to make another film for them, this time about a new condom called, wait for it, Ecstacy! In the meeting we had about it, I mentioned that the shape of the condom was somewhat curious, and Dan from the adverising agency said 'Yes, it's shaped like a baseball bat!'. That was the beginning of a germ of an idea...
I thought something as ecstatic needed a theme with pizzazz so we wrote a 50s style musical. Lance Horne helped us write the music and the lovely Ricki Lake came along and played with me. We shot it at the Box in NYC and we all had a hoot.
I was sent a script by writer Tom Gallagher called Suffering Man's Charity in 2004 and I immediately wanted to do it.
I think I was in a bit of a funk about screenplays and movies, and the formulaic nature of them. Even those perceived as wacky still have a certain mandatory structure and tradition that I was beginning to feel very stifling. So I think that was one of the reasons I fell in love with Suffering Man's Charity. It is absolutely nuts and shifts between many genres and each time some new crazy thing happened I remember audibly gasping and marvelling about where the script was going to go.
So I directed and starred in Ghost Writer, as it came to be known. We shot it in LA in November and December 2006. It had its world premiere at the SXSW festival in Austin in March 2007. The film also stars David Boreanaz, Henry Thomas, Anne Heche, Karen Black, Jane Lynch and Carre Fisher.
Here's what Salon.com had to say about its opening...
Protean Scottish actor-director Alan Cumming has premiered his new film, an outrageous horror-comedy carefully designed to offend the entire population of the planet. Those who didn't show up missed seeing Cumming himself as a queeny, middle-aged music teacher who winds up imprisoning and torturing a young hustler played by David Boreanaz (of "Angel" and "Buffy" fame), who is wearing women's underwear and tied up with Christmas lights and duct tape (oh, and heavily medicated with sleeping pills). "Suffering Man's Charity" is just that kind of movie: It opens as if it's going to be a sad-sack gay comedy in a lesser Tennessee Williams mode. And then it goes completely insane. Even before we get to Boreanaz and the Christmas lighting, we've already had Anne Heche as a femme fatale New York editor and Karen Black (Karen Black!) as a drunken, slutty hag stumbling around in her underwear and making obscene promises to Boreanaz's rent-boy character. Later in the film, there's a significant splatter quotient, an appalling vehicular accident, a vindictive ghost and a truly horrible New York literary party. This film is all genres at once, and a few that don't yet exist. Given Cumming's far-reaching showbiz as a Shakespearean actor, kiddie-film villain (in "Garfield" and the "Spy Kids" series), novelist, indie director ("The Anniversary Party") and outspoken activist on gay issues, I have no doubt he can find a distributor for this willfully grotesque picture eventually. It's either a total disaster or a midnight movie cult hit in the making, and on first viewing I'm not sure which. As I told myself while I stumbled out into the steamy streets of Austin, for better or worse there was nothing like that at Sundance.
In 2001, after The Anniversary Party was released, Joe Mantegna from the commercial company Zooma Zooma approached me about possibly joining his roster of directors with a view to directing commercials.
In November I shot my first (and only!) commercial, an anti-smoking PSA called It's Legal. I was able to change the setting of the story and shoot it on a boat that is moored in Chelsea, NYC to give the spot a more eerie ambience, and I was also happy to be able to use several of my friends in roles.
Jennifer Jason Leigh and I wrote, produced and directed The Anniversary Party. We also play the central characters, Joe and Sally Therrian, recently reunited after a 9-month separation, and throwing a sixth wedding anniversary party to prove to themselves as well as their friends that everything is all right.
The other cast members include Kevin Kline, Phoebe Cates, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Beals, Jane Adams, John C. Reilly, Michael Panes, Mina Badie, Parker Posey, John Benjamin Hickey and Denis O'Hare.
Jennifer and I first met while she played Sally Bowles on Broadway in Cabaret. The idea for the story came from Jennifer and I getting to know each other. We thought it would be nice to make a film with friends, and so, partly influenced by the experience she had had working on a Dogma film in Africa we set out to make a film that would feel real, with a crossover of who we all are in real life and who we all are in the film and to make it about grown-up issues and dealt with in a grown-up way i.e. not perfectly and a little messy.
Here's a video diary I made during the course of the film, and some interviews we did about it...
The film premiered at the Cannes film festival in 2001 and was released shortly after. We won a National Board of Review award and were nominated for two Independent Spirit awards for Best First Feature and Best First Screenplay
Burn Your Phone was originally a radio play, written by Andrew wallace, which I did for the BBC. I thought it would make a really gripping film, and as I was looking for something else to direct after Butter, I asked my friend and producer Dixie Linder to help me get it made. And so, in a relatively short time we were shooting it for BBC 2's Screen Two strand at Elstree Studios. It only took two days to shoot, because basically it's just me on the phone to lots of unseen people, but it was quite an intricate process getting the actors in an adjoining studio piped through to the earpiece in my ear and acting with them as well as concentrating on how to make the thing visually interesting when it was just my face for half an hour.
I think this was the first time that I realised that I liked directing myself because it really freed up my acting. As a director you have so many things to think about on a set that when it came down to the actual acting I felt really relaxed and free and I think my performance is better as a result. Also, as a director I am way, way more prepared than I ever am as an actor so I think that amount of preparation and thought for the other aspects of the film helps my acting too.
Burn Your Phone is about Andy, a telephone operator, who, during a normal day of answering calls begins to hear from someone who knows things that only Andy himself could know and eventually begins to threaten Andy's life.
The film was broadcast on New year's Eve 1996, and on that night as I was boarding a flight back to London from Prague (I had been filming For My Baby in Budapest) I walked on the plane to see about a hundred pictures of my face staring back at me from the TV listings on the back page of the complimentary newspapers that the passengers had all been given. It was rather alarming until I realised what was going on.
Butter, is a short film that I wrote and directed. It was my directorial debut and I was really lucky to have a great friend, Dixie Linder, to produce it and a bunch of really great actor friends to be in it and help me bring it to fruition.
Originally I wrote Butter as a short one woman piece that was performed as part of a trio of plays called Listen, I'm Talking at the RSC Fringe Festival in Newcastle in 1990.
I am really fascinated by food issues, I have had them myself, and I think there is a huge problem in the way people can seek their own happiness, desirability and self-worth through or via food. I had listened to many people's stories and anecdotes and finally I put pen to paper and Butter was the result. Also, like Jane in the film, I equate comfort with mashed potatoes, so that's why they play such an important part!
Jane (who was played by my ex-wife Hilary Lyon) has an eating problem. She has bought and prepared a feast for an unseen date who calls in sick and sends her spiraling round London, visiting friends and revisiting old habits. The film also stars Jane Horrocks, Helena Bonham Carter, Richard E. Grant, Richard Wilson, Susan Wooldridge, Andy de la Tour, and me myself in a cameo as Jane's secretary. The film premiered at the Edinburgh Festival in 1994 and played at many other film festivals before being shown on Channel 4 TV.
I had long admired the work of French Canadian playwright Michel Tremblay, and so when I was asked if I'd like to direct something at the Royal Nationla Theatre studio, I found this play and did it.
In a way, looking back at it, I can understand why I was drawn to it for my first stab at directing in the professional theatre: just like the films I have directed it's about people trying to communicate and finding a way to get along. That's all I am really interested in, really, when it comes to directing. I just want to see people in a certain situaton, watch them struggle, and the come to some form of resolution.
When you work at the RNT studio you have access to the amazing actors in the main building, but I was also allowed to being in a few from outside too, so I was really spolied. I gave the play a Scottish setting, as I think the sensibility and the issues in Tremblay's work really resonates with the Scots. So I had some great Scottish actors like Ralph Riach (who had been in the year above me at drama school, had played my boss in Taggart and would also play Tiresias in the Bacchae with me fifteen years later!), Myra McFadyen, who had been in Sleeping Beauty with me at the Tron in Glasgow, Jo Cameron Brown, Sally Dexter, Mandana Jones, Mark Lockyer, Barbara Horne and Hilary Lyon.
This is the only play I have ever directed thus far.
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